Tickling A Moving Target: When Your “Yes/No/Maybe” List Changes: The Blowfish Blog

Yes no dont_knowImportant note: This piece — and the piece it links to — contains detailed information about my personal sex life. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about figuring out your sexual likes and dislikes… and why it’s important for this to be an ongoing process, a continuing education program rather than a one-time training.

It’s called Tickling A Moving Target: When Your “Yes/No/Maybe” List Changes, and here’s the teaser:

So the other day, I was reminded — vividly, and in the best possible way — of a very important but easy- to- forget truth about sex.

The truth: Sexual desires change. Things that last year hit all your beautiful buttons might leave you lukewarm today. And things that last year made you run screaming from the room might make you go “Hmmm” tonight. Mapping your desires can be like mapping Europe in the ’80s and ’90s — it’s a geography that could shift at any time.

Here’s the story.

To find out the story, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Amazing Mechanical Leftie: Reflexive Thinking in Alt Culture

There’s a common trope I’ve noticed among progressive liberal types. Including, I will freely admit, myself. It goes something like this:

Anything that’s alternative is good; anything that’s conventional or mainstream is bad.
Wicca
Tattoos and piercings are good; nose jobs and boob jobs are bad. Arthouse films are good; reality TV is bad. Nature is good; industrialization is bad. (Except when you’re on your Blackberry or your iPhone, or are checking your email twenty times a day.) Meditation and Wicca are good; megachurches are bad. Alternative medicine is good; conventional medicine is bad. Tai Chi is uplifting and spiritual; cheerleading is sexist and shallow. Anything you buy at Rainbow Grocery will be delicious and healthy; anything you buy at Safeway or the A&P will be tasteless and carcinogenic.

It’s not that I don’t understand the trope or sympathize with it. I do. I even agree with some of the statements above (parts of them, anyway). I run this trope myself, way more often than I should. As I wrote in my piece on the Galileo Fallacy (a fallacy that bears much in common with this one), “If you’re a non-conformist and an independent thinker, you’ve probably gotten used to pushing against the current — to the point that doing so feels more comfortable and natural than going along with it. If you’ve spent your life resisting popular but stupid ideas, resisting popular ideas can become a reflex.”

But here’s the thing, the thing it took me decades to figure out and that I still get tripped up on.

It’s not just that the trope is overly simplistic. it’s not just that the trope isn’t always true.

It’s this:

Puppet
The trope makes you a puppet of mass opinion.

If you reflexively reject something just because it’s mainstream, you’re being every bit as controlled by mass opinion as you would if you reflexively embraced something just because it’s mainstream.

You’re still letting yourself be controlled by what everyone else is doing. Sure, you’re doing it in a Bizarro World/ Opposite Day kind of way. But you’re still doing it. You’re still unthinkingly letting your life be determined by mainstream culture. No, you shouldn’t do something just because everyone else is doing it. That’s a bad reason to do anything. But it doesn’t make any more sense to not do something just because everyone else is doing it.

I see this trope a lot when it comes to alt culture and science. Somehow, in much of alternative culture, science and the scientific community have gotten lumped in together with Big Corporations and Big Media and the Bush Administration. Somehow, the scientific community got turned into The Man.

Echinacea
This is very much the fuel that feeds the twin fires of alternative medicine and woo spirituality. “Conventional medicine,” the trope goes, “only cares about making Big Pharma rich. It’s a billion dollar industry. They want you to stay sick, so they can keep treating you and getting rich. And besides, it’s so… conventional. Let’s take these herbs instead. They were used by (insert extinct primitive culture of your choice here). They understood about the earth and treating the whole body. Not like those reductionist doctors.” (Disregarding the fact that alternative medicine is also a billion dollar industry, and that the primitive culture in question had a life expectancy of 45.)

Capricorn
Or: “Of course those studies on telepathy/ astrology/ Reiki/ reincarnation/ audio recordings of the spirits of the dead didn’t work. The researchers were biased. They unconsciously skewed the test. Maybe even consciously. They didn’t want to see the Truth. It would blow their minds.” (Disregarding the fact that, if any scientist could conclusively prove the existence of metaphysical energy fields or life after death, it would make them the single most famous scientist in the history of the world.)

Beta_decay_Feynman diagram.svg
Or my personal favorite: “Did you know that, according to quantum theory, (insert wild New Age interpretation of quantum theory of your choice here)? No, I didn’t get that from a physicist or a physics text. I got it from Deepak Chopra (or whoever). He understands the true implications of the new science, way more than those scientists. The scientists are so mired in the physical, they can’t see The Truth right in front of their faces.” (Disregarding the fact that maybe, just maybe, people who have spent their entire adult lives rigorously studying quantum physics might know more about it than some New Age guru.)

Somehow, the idea has taken hold in alt culture that non- conformity means you can reject scientific consensus. And it shows a troubling lack of understanding about what science is and how it works. The reflexive tendency to assume that mainstream consensus means conformist groupthink ignores this basic truth about science: when you’re trying to understand physical reality, when you’re trying to figure out cause and effect in the physical world, replicability is the name of the game. And replicability means consensus.

Yes, of course, new ideas and paradigm shifts and thinking outside the box are important in science, too. But until the freaky new idea has been tested and tested and tested, by hundreds or thousands of other scientists, it doesn’t make sense to embrace it. You don’t embrace an idea based on a handful of papers. You can find a handful of papers to support almost any nutjob idea. You don’t embrace it until it’s run the replicability gauntlet. In other words, until it’s no longer freaky and new, and has become part of the consensus, inside the newly expanded box.
So here’s what I think is missing when people in alt culture reject science, or cherrypick it based on their personal biases and whims. (No, it’s not critical thinking. That’s missing too, but it’s not what I’m talking about now.)

I think they don’t get who they’re making common cause with.

Museum_of_Creation
I think they don’t get that they’re making common cause with creationists. With global warming denialists. With proponents of abstinence-only sex education. With supporters of the War On Drugs. With a whole host of right-wing assholes who feel perfectly comfortable rejecting science and evidence and reality when it doesn’t conform to their ideology.

I think that they don’t get that they’re participating in an old American tradition: the tradition of know- nothing- ism, of anti- intellectualism.

So let me just say this: It is not a tradition that has historically been kind to progressive, alternative, liberationist culture.

There was a time when alternative culture meant valuing the intellect. I am deeply troubled by the trend in modern alt culture that seems bent on rejecting it. Independent thinking means exactly that — thinking. It doesn’t mean reflexively rejecting the mainstream, any more than it means reflexively going along with it. It means evaluating each choice on its own merits, based on your values and experiences and the evidence you’ve seen. And it means having respect for people who think for a living… and who carefully test their thoughts against the reality of the world.

Site Map: An Index of my Favorite (and Most Popular) Posts

Computer_keyboard
Readers of my blog will have no doubt noticed that I keep a list of my favorite blog posts in the right column of my blog, so that newcomers to my blog can easily find the old good stuff. (My blog isn’t usually topical or time-sensitive, and it seems a waste to have some of my best writing disappear into the mists of the archives.)

But readers of my blog will also notice that said list is getting a bit, shall we say, unwieldy. Hence, the introduction to my blog of something that’s long overdue:

1592_4_Nova_Doetecum_mr
A site map.

This is an organized index: not of every single post I’ve written in this blog, but of the ones I consider reasonably important, interesting, or in some cases just funny. (I’m still going to keep the “favorite posts” list, but I’m trimming it considerably.) The posts are listed in reverse chronological order, with more recent posts at the top of each category. Posts that belong in two or more categories have been put in two or more categories. Go figure.

Important note: The fact that a post appears here doesn’t necessarily mean that I still agree with it. In some cases I changed my mind about a post weeks, months, or years later; in others, you can see my mind actually changing in the comments thread. Especially when it comes to atheism. My ideas and opinions have been evolving, and this blog should be read as my “thinking out loud” place — not my “final word on the subject” place. Posts that I consider unusually important or good are marked with a *. Posts I consider super-duper important or good are marked with a ***.

BTW: I don’t expect anyone to actually read this through. (Although if you do, you win the Devoted Fan award.) I’m just posting it now so I can link to it later.

[Read more…]

HTML Enabled!

Vote
The people have spoken!

I asked your opinion, I listened to your comments… and the vote, while not unanimous, was pretty much a landslide. Most commenters in this blog (at least, most commenters who expressed an opinion) want to use HTML in comments. And almost all the people who voted against it either don't care very much or had concerns that, while valid, have been addressed by TypePad.

So I've now enabled HTML in comments. You can use italics, bold, strong, emphasis, strikeout,

blockquote

and a couple others, which I don't know what they are so I'm not listing them here. Preview your comment if you're not sure. Go nuts, everybody!

Just an FYI: This means that, from now on, URLs that are posted in comments will no longer automatically get turned into live links. You can either use HTML to convert your URLs into live links, or just leave them as they are and let people copy and paste.

Loading The Dice: Bisexuality And Choice

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Bi
In the various and sundry debates about gay rights, the question of whether sexual orientation is a choice comes up with almost irritating predictability. And when it does, one of the things I’ve noticed is that bisexuality — as it so often does — gets completely ignored.

So I want to talk a little about bisexuality, sexual orientation, and choice.

Because, speaking as a bisexual person, in my experience I do have something of a choice.

1st_waltz_1
Of course it’s true that I don’t have a choice about who I’m sexually attracted to. And I didn’t have a choice about who I fell in love with. I don’t choose that, any more than anyone else does. But back when I was dating, I did have a choice about who I dated and who I socialized with. At the time that I fell for Ingrid, I was dating women, and socializing in the lesbian community, a whole lot more than I was with men and in the hetero community. And I was doing it out of choice.

On the whole, I like women more than men. Sexually I like both roughly the same (with something of a preference for women on the whole, but with that preference varying a lot over the years). But personally, emotionally, I tend to like women better than men. Not as friends necessarily — I have plenty of male friends — but as romantic partners. The personality traits that, in my experience, women tend to have more than men — cooperation, empathy, emotional expressiveness, good listening skills, yada yada yada — are traits that I like, and traits that I find central to a good relationship.
Dice
Now, of course, that’s a generalization, and a very broad one at that. Not all women are like that, and plenty of men are. And if I’d happened to meet and fall for a man who was cooperative and empathetic and expressive and a good listener etc., then that would have been just ducky. But back when I was dating, dating women just seemed to make more sense. It was the smart way of playing the odds. It was loading the dice.

And it works the other way, too. I’ve known other bisexuals who date and socialize more heterosexually –again out of choice.

Whatever
It is, IMO, one of the differences between being bisexual and being monosexual (hetero- or homosexual). You can, in theory, be happy being sexual and romantic with someone of either gender… and so you have at least some degree of choice about which gender you get involved with. Indeed, if your relationship preference is very strong indeed, you can actually flat-out refuse to get involved with potential partners of one gender or the other, even if your libido or your heart is temporarily pulling you towards them… and unlike homosexual people who refuse to accept their homosexuality, you can still have a happy and satisfying sexual and romantic life. And even if you don’t go that far, you can still generally date and socialize with the gender and the community you’d prefer to end up with. You can’t choose who you get the hots for… but you can hang out with the kind of people you’d be happy to hook up with if lightning strikes. You can load the dice.

So when I hear people defend gay rights by saying, “Of course it’s not a choice, who would choose to be queer, who would choose to be oppressed and vilified and discriminated against?”, my reaction is to raise my hand and say, “Me. Over here. I would.” Of course I’d rather not be oppressed, etc. — but even with all of those drawbacks, I’d still choose to be queer. And I’d still choose to be in a queer relationship. I did.

Who cares if its a choice
And this is a big part of the reason that I think the “choice” issue is a red herring in the gay rights debates. After all, you could argue that pedophiles don’t choose to be attracted to children, and still think it’s profoundly immoral to act on that attraction. The important question in the gay rights debates is not whether being queer is a choice, but whether there’s any reason whatsoever to think that being queer is harmful. And by now, the evidence is overwhelming that it is not. Whether it’s a choice or not is irrelevant. It is still, flatly and unequivocally, none of anybody else’s damn business.

I developed these ideas in a discussion thread on Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Thanks, Ed.

Telepathy, or, Why You Need Directions to the Psychic Fair

Telepathy
In my ongoing attempt to be an equal- opportunity crank and occasionally critique spiritual beliefs other than The Big Ones, I want to talk today about the belief in telepathy.

And I want to talk about one of the single most convincing arguments against it. It’s an argument that doesn’t get made all that often, but it’s one that I find very telling indeed.

No, it’s not “It violates every shred of evidence we have about how the mind works.” It’s not “Nobody who believes in it has ever proposed a plausible mechanism for how it might work.” It’s not even “There is not a shred of solid evidence to support it — every anecdotal report of it is easily explained by confirmation bias etc., and every attempt to rigorously test it using the scientific method has come up with bupkis.” Those are all excellent arguments: but I’ve made them before, and it’s not what I want to talk about today.

It’s this:

If telepathy were a real phenomenon, natural selection would have selected for it long ago.

We would all have it. And it would not be a subtle effect, occasionally telling us who’s on the phone when it’s ringing. It would be obvious. We wouldn’t be having debates about whether it’s real, any more than we have debates about whether language is real.

Explanation_of_Evolution
Think about it. If telepathy existed — even to a tiny degree — it would confer an enormous selective advantage in evolution. Even a tiny amount of telepathy would be far more useful than a tiny amount of camouflage, a tiny amount of a wing for gliding, a tiny amount of language. It would enable you to know, just a little bit quicker than your competitors, that there’s a delicious duck with a tasty nest of duck eggs right under that bush… or a ferocious tiger behind that other bush waiting to make you into a meal… or an enemy crouching in the tree branch over your head, waiting to conk you with a stone axe. Even a small amount of telepathy would give you enough of a survival advantage for natural selection to sit up and take notice.

Happy_feet.svg
And, need I say, telepathy would confer a ridiculous advantage when it comes to reproduction. If you could know whether the person you’re trying to mate with is interested or you’re just wasting your time; if you could know what their turn-ons and turn-offs were and work your angle accordingly… you’d be in like Flynn. The ability to know what the opposite sex is thinking, or even to be slightly better at guessing than your competitors, would get your DNA replicated so fast it would make your head spin.

(Yes, I know, all this talk about the opposite sex is assuming heterosexuality, or at least bisexuality. But when you’re talking about reproductive strategy in the days before turkey basters, I think that’s a fair assumption.)

In the exact same way that slightly improved vision, slightly improved manual dexterity, slightly improved cognitive ability, all gave enough of an advantage for these traits to be selected for, a slight improvement in the ability to know, just know, what other people are thinking, would be a mind-blowingly huge advantage for both survival and reproduction. (Plus it would arguably render language unnecessary, thus freeing up a large amount of expensive real estate in the brain… not to mention eliminating thousands of deaths by choking every year.)

Menagerie
If telepathy were plausible, if it were even possible, if even a tenth of the people who claimed to have it throughout history actually had it in even the slightest degree, we’d all have it by now. At the very least, an awful lot of us would have it. We certainly wouldn’t be debating its existence, any more than we debate the existence of eyes or hands or brains.
(These ideas were developed in a comment thread on Pharyngula.)

Other posts in this series:

For No Good Reason: Atheist Transcendence at the Black and White Tour

Black and white tour 3
I know. Most people don’t connect Morris dancing with transcendence, atheist or otherwise. Most people who have seen Morris dancing connect it with cacophony, silly outfits, and beer. But I had a moment of atheist transcendence at the Black And White Morris Tour a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to talk about it.

A quick bit of background. Morris dancing is a more or less harmless addiction that takes the form of dressing in colorful outfits, strapping bells to your legs, and dancing in smallish groups (usually six or eight people), clashing sticks together and/or waving hankies about. It’s an English folk tradition, and while many Morris dancers will tell you entertaining lies about how incredibly ANCIENT the tradition is and how there was probably Morris dancing at Stonehenge, it’s actually about 500 years old or so. My darling Ingrid is deeply involved with it, but I love her anyway.

Black and white tour 6
Now. Typically, a Morris outing involves one or more teams each dressing in their own distinctive team outfits, each team performing their own dances. But the Black and White Tour is different. Everyone just dresses in whatever combination of black and white strikes their fancy. And the dances are common ones that many dancers know: so pretty much everyone on every team can dance just about every dance, all together.

And this year, it was magnificent.

Black and white tour 1
I don’t dance the Morris myself anymore. High impact, bad knee. I was just there to watch and hoot. And this year, I was gobsmacked. I’ve seen a lot of Morris dancing in my life — Ingrid’s done it for years, and I did it for years before she did — and while I enjoy it, I’ve also seen enough of it to last me several lifetimes, and am not easily impressed. But this time, I was more than impressed. I had my breath taken away. It was one of the most beautiful and memorable things I’ve seen in my life.

And it was all for no good reason.

Which brings me back to atheism, and the atheist transcendence.

Black and white tour 2It’s hard to describe what exactly made this day so breathtaking. Part of it was that it was such a beautiful blend of individual expression and group coherence. So much of life stresses one at the expense of the other: the individual submerges their own expression to go along with the group, or the individual says, “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine,” and does what they want regardless of the effect on society. The Black and White tour somehow managed to hit that rare, perfect, synergistic balance between the two: the joy of working together, and the joy of being yourself.

Black and white tour 8
The exuberantly imaginative interpretations of the “black and white” theme are a perfect example. It was a specific enough vision to give the group a coherent look, while at the same time allowing a tremendous amount of room for personal expression. The fact that it was an inter-team event helped as well: instead of one or maybe two sets dancing at a time, there were often four or five sets of six or eight dancers all dancing in a row, turning an already flamboyant dance form into a lavish, extravagant spectacle. And the fact that the performances were mostly by mish-moshes of people who had rarely, if ever, danced together before somehow added to the goofy, boisterous glee of it. It wasn’t about precision or team pride. It was about joy.

Black and white tour 5
And partly, it was just beautiful: the black and white of the dancers capering in the sunlight, against the Victorian white and glass of the Conservatory of Flowers and the green, green grass of Golden Gate Park. It looked like some wild, arty circus had come to town.

But much of what made it so magnificent was the sheer, beautiful absurdity of it all.

There is no good reason on this earth to do Morris dancing. It is an utterly pointless activity. Okay, you get some exercise and social contact… but really. You can get social contact anywhere, and you can get better exercise at the gym. And you don’t have to strap bells to your legs and wave handkerchiefs around like an idiot to do it. It isn’t constructive, it isn’t important, it doesn’t produce anything. All it produces is joy.

Which, if you’re an atheist, is kind of what life is like.

There’s no purpose or meaning to it, other than the purpose and meaning we create. In a few decades, we’re all going to be gone, dust in the ground or ashes in the wind. In a few million years, the earth and everything on it will be gone, boiled away into the Sun. And if the physicists and astronomers are right, in a few billion years the Universe will essentially be gone, dissipated into a thin scattering of atoms dotted throughout vast stretches of empty space. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, no prize in the CrackerJacks, no final chapter that ties up all the loose ends. And there’s no big daddy in the sky to shake your hand at the end of it and say, “You done good, kid. Here’s your blue ribbon.”

Black and white tour 4
And yet, here we are. We were, against wildly astronomical odds, born. The chances against any one of us having been born are so high as to be laughable; the chances against there having been life on this planet at all defy description. No, there’s no purpose to it, if by “purpose” you mean “being a cog in someone else’s machine.” There’s no reason for it to have happened, except that it did. And the meaning of it is whatever meaning we create. The meaning of it is to diminish suffering and create joy and connection, for ourselves and for each other, for as long as we’re here.

We can do that in our work. We can do it in our art. We can do it in our friendships, our relationships, our families. We can do it in politics, charities, community involvement. We can do it with cooking. We can do it with fashion. We can do it with sex.

Black and white tour 7
And we can do it by dressing in ridiculous outfits, strapping bells to our legs, and dancing in the park like fools.

For no good reason.

Other pieces in this series:
Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence

Photos copyright 2008 by Tiffany Barnes, of White Rats Morris team in San Francisco. You can click on any of the photos to enlarge, or you can see the whole slideshow if you like. I’m a little sorry they’re all by Tiffany, actually: they’re gorgeous pictures, but it means there aren’t any of her, and she had one of the best outfits of anybody.

Sexual Freedom In A Shopping Bag: “Sex And The City”: The Blowfish Blog

Sex-and-the-city-movie-posterI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a review of the new “Sex and the City” movie… if by “review” you mean “vituperative tongue- lashing of the movie’s retrograde attitudes towards sex.” It’s called Sexual Freedom in a Shopping Bag: “Sex and the City,” and here’s the teaser:

I should tell you right now: I am not a fan of the show. At all. I’ve seen roughly a dozen episodes, and every one made me want to throw the remote through the TV screen. So I did not come to this movie with the proper, unbiased film- critic attitude. I came thoroughly prepared to despise it and everything it stood for.

But I’ve come to movies before with that attitude, and have found myself pleasantly surprised.

Not this time.

And so we come to the problem at hand. The attitudes about sex in the “Sex and the City” movie are deeply conventional, as facile and unimaginative as anything else in the movie… and yet it presents itself, in this smug, self-congratulatory way, as an example of brave, ground- breaking, “I am woman watch me fuck” sex- positivity for the modern age. It offers glib platitudes as if they were profound insights, and its approach to sex is as consumerist and status- oriented as its approach to… well, everything.

To find out more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Porn Cliches, Or, On Not Seducing The Plumber

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life and sexual practices — not in a huge amount of detail, but it might be too much information than family members and others who don't want to read about my sex life. If you don't want to read that stuff, please don't read this piece. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Pipe dreams
This is a story about a porn cliche.

And it's about the difference between what you want… and what you think you want.

A few years ago, when I was in my old apartment, our building had a plumber who used to come out pretty regularly. (Old building; lousy plumbing; frequent visits from the plumber.) He was kind of a dish: young, friendly, skinny but muscular, bright red hair, a sweet Irish accent like whisky in butter. I used to joke about what a babe he was, and how one of these days I might succumb to the porn cliche and seduce the plumber.

So this one time he came out to the apartment to fix the crappy plumbing… and he stayed to chat.

For no reason that I could figure out right away.

Sex the annabel chong story
And the conversation kept taking these odd, non-sequitur turns. He brought up the art house movie schedule hanging on my door… and made a point of mentioning the porn star documentary that was coming up. He mentioned the science fiction books on my bookshelf… and kept talking about how he liked science fiction cover art, it was so sexy, with all those half-naked girls and guys. (Little did he know that the cover art is probably my least favorite thing about science fiction…)

It was a little odd. Flattering, but odd. After all, he'd never paid me anything but friendly professional interest before. I never did figure out why this visit was different. But my best guess is that he'd seen the stack of porno videos in the office next to the bathroom — I was working as a porn critic then, as I still am today — and I think he figured that, with a stack of pornos just sitting out in the open like that, I might be easy and horny and hot to trot. And maybe the porn cliche/ "visit from the plumber" connection had crossed his mind as well as mine.

But back to the story.

Like I was saying, this was an odd conversation, and it took me a while to catch on. (I can be kind of thick about it when people are hitting on me.) But it didn’t take that long. When you’re alone in the house with the plumber, and he keeps bringing up sex for no good reason, it doesn't take a nuclear genius to figure it out. He was offering me the porn cliche, the impromptu fling with the hot young plumber.

And I was tempted to take him up on it.

For about ten seconds.

But here's the thing. When presented with the real possibility of it, the fantasy almost immediately lost its appeal.

Plumber's helper
For one thing, I don't actually choose my sex partners based on whether they seem like they stepped out of a porn video. I choose my sex partners based on, you know, sexual compatibility. I have somewhat particular tastes in sex — not wildly out of the ordinary tastes, but particular ones — and while it's certainly possible that he would have loved to spank me silly or let me fuck him up the ass, the odds didn't seem in my favor. And I didn't feel like doing the whole sex-positive "conscientious negotiation of overlapping sexual interests" thing. It would have totally killed the spontaneous buzz of the "shtupping the plumber" fantasy. No matter how cute that plumber might be.

It's not like cuteness is a non-issue for me. Obviously there needs to be some physical chemistry for me to have fun with someone, and it's certainly a plus if they make my head swivel when I pass them on the street. But I'd rather play with someone who knows their way around a riding crop than with someone who looks like the Irish Brad Pitt. No contest.

Maybe more importantly, though, I didn’t actually know this guy — and I didn't have any reason to trust him. I didn't have any reason not to trust him… but I didn't know anything about him, I didn't know anyone who knew him, and I certainly didn't know anyone who’d had sex with him. So I didn't know if he respected limits, or if he cared about women’s pleasure, or even if he played safe.

Which pretty much dovetails with the "sexual compatibility" thing.

Door
Now remember, this was a guy I'd lusted after for some time. It's not like he took up a lot of space in my sexual imagination; but whenever he appeared on the scene, there was always a twinge of wistful lust, followed by "what might have been" fantasies that often lasted for several days. But the reality wasn't nearly as enticing as I’d imagined it would be. I wound up the conversation, said that I had to get back to work, and politely ushered him out the door, with just a twinge of regret — not for the sex that might have been, but for how much fun I would have had telling the story.

So I think the moral of the story is this:

We don't always want what we think we want.

I really thought I wanted to have sex with this guy. At any point before this encounter, if you had asked me, "Do you want to have sex with the dishy red-headed plumber?", I would have answered, "Sure!" Until I was actually presented with the opportunity to do so, that is.

On a core physical level, I suppose I did want it. I thought he was cute, I lusted after him when he was around, I had occasional sex fantasies about him. If that's what you mean by "want," then yeah, I guess I wanted it. But in the important, actually useful sense of the word "want" — in the "Would you accept this if it were easily available?" sense — it turned out that I didn't.

I just thought I did.

Fence grass
And I think this is something monogamous people need to remember. When you're monogamous, it's easy to get wound up over every cute person who passes your line of vision and seems like they might be available. It’s important to remember that not everyone who momentarily stirs your loins is someone you would actually have sex with if you were free and they were offering. Some cute people are crazy; some cute people are on a different sexual wavelength; some cute people just aren't very interesting. So it's important to remember that you don't always want what you think you want. It's important to remember that the green, green grass on the other side of the fence doesn't always look so green when it shows up at your door, makes awkward sexual small talk, and offers you a chance at a silly porn cliche.

Barack Obama, and the Stupidity of ABC News

Boy, do I hate TV news.

Barack_obama
I happened to watch Barack Obama’s speech last night. It was purely by accident — I was watching “Jeopardy,” and the speech broke in as breaking news — but I was extremely glad I did. My support of Obama is not unmixed, but I found myself surprisingly moved and inspired by his speech, and I haven’t felt that way about a politician in a long, long time. And I’m enough of a bleeding- heart liberal to feel a thrill of pride at the fact that America is nominating an African- American as the nominee for President in a major party. It was an historic moment, and I was glad to have witnessed it. (I’ll feel a lot more pride if he gets elected in November.)

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I was watching the speech on ABC News. Again, simply by accident: I’d been watching “Jeopardy” when it came on, and just kept it on that channel. The first part of the speech wasn’t very substantive: fairly typical Obama stuff about hope and the future, unity and healing, the wonderfulness of the American people. Inspiring, some of it, and it certainly seemed heartfelt… but there wasn’t a lot of there there.

But then he started talking about John McCain. He started talking about the specific, significant ways that his policies and proposals differed from those of McCain.

Abc_news_logoAnd at that point — roughly half a sentence into Obama switching from vague hopeful platitudes to specific policies — ABC cut in.

They kept the speech on. But they turned down the volume, and put George Stephanopoulos and some other yahoo on the screen. They switched over from airing Obama’s speech… to airing ABC’s commentary on the speech, with the speech itself burbling along in the background like Muzak.

I was furious. I sat there stunned for a minute, waiting for them to shut the hell up and get back to the speech. And as soon as it became clear that they weren’t going to do that any time soon, I frantically scrambled for the remote, and switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could fly. I was so glad I did, of course: it was an amazing speech, and it did, in fact, go into quite a few specifics about what Obama cares about. And — whaddya know? — a lot of what he cares about are the things I care about. Education; global warming; health care; science; an end to the war in Iraq. And he spoke about these things with both intellect and passion — a combination that is way the hell too rare in American politics. I still have a few mixed feelings about him, I still don’t think he’s the second coming of John F. Kennedy, but I am now totally on board.

But the more inspired I got by his speech, the angrier I got at ABC News.

What the hell were they thinking?

The tinfoil- hat conspiracy theory part of my brain kept asking: Is this deliberate? Are they trying to play the “Obama is inspiring but doesn’t have any policy specifics or detailed plans” story, and the “here is precisely where my proposals differ from those of my opponent” part of Obama’s speech doesn’t fit into that narrative… so they edit it out?

George Stephanopoulos
Or — and in many ways this is worse — are they just totally tone- deaf? Do they really think that their talking- heads analysis of Obama’s speech is more important and more interesting than the speech itself? Do they really think that this historic occasion — what amounted to the acceptance speech of the first African- American major- party candidate for President of the United States — deserved, at most, a couple/few minutes of sound bite, before the really important business of George Stephanopoulos gassing on?

Did they really think that, at this moment in history, what George Stephanopoulos had to say was more interesting and important than what Barack Obama had to say?

I don’t know how long they kept it up. Like I said, I switched over to CNN as fast as my fingers could get me there, and I stayed there for the rest of the speech. But I don’t care. The fact that they did it at all, even if it was just for a minute or two, shows an insensitivity so appalling that it verges into flat- out racism. And it was a pitch- perfect example of what is wrong with political discourse in this country. Political news in this country consists largely of brief, sound- bite snippets from the actual candidates and newsmakers and people in government… sandwiched in between endless hours of yammering from reporters and pundits and opinion- makers, until the meta-news, the news about the news, becomes more important than the news itself.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of me gassing on about this, engaging in this sort of meta-commentary and acting as if my opinion is important. True, I’m not interrupting a broadcast of a major speech to tell you what I think about it, but still. So you know? Go watch the speech. It’s much more interesting, and much more important, than anything I have to say about it.